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In 1925 Maurice Griffiths wrote of impecunious sailing in his pioneering “Yachting on a Small Income”. It is remarkable for its influence on the development of leisure boating. However MG’s advice on winter storage was limited to floating the boat on a high tide into a soft mud berth in a sheltered creek and covering with a tarpaulin to keep off rot inducing fresh water.

Over-wintering in a mud berth may suffice for wooden boats with lead keels but GRP yachts with cast iron keels benefit from being allowed to dry out through the winter, reducing the risk of osmosis and enabling keels to be primed. Taking a boat out of the water can be costly if a crane is involved but there are other options. I have two examples near me, a railway system at my own club and a big slipway with trolleys at a neighbouring yard.

The Upper Forth Boat Club railway system  

The railway makes the club independent of crane hire, helping bring keel boat sailing within the reach of ordinary folk. A bogey is made to fit each boat, running on mines hutch wheels. This is rolled down a patent slip; the boat floated onto it and then pulled out of the water using a powerful static winch. In the yard a bogey with rails on its top known as the traverse bogey runs in a transverse pit, again on rails. The boat on its bogey is rolled onto the traverse bogey and the whole lot moved laterally to where boat bogey can be pushed into a parking bay, known as a bogey berth.

The system allows random access for boat movements rather than first in last out imposed by a straight run of patent slip.

The bogeys are built from rolled steel joist, the hutch axle being cut and extended to standard gauge. Uprights, “goal posts”, to indicate where the bogey is when under the water are made from four inch diameter pipe. These need to be strong as they also serve as attachment points for the boat. They take a lot of load as the winch takes the strain and the boat begins to move until the bogey comes up the slip enough for the boat to sit on it. Moveable rollers are used to keep the winch wire off the ground.

By experiment, warps can be marked so they are the right length for the boat to settle on the bogey in the right position fore and aft. Four sausage fenders slung horizontally against the goal post uprights keep the boat in the middle of the bogey. Wide channels locate keels and these are lined with plywood to avoid the slipperiness of metal to metal contact.

A variety of railway wheels are used, small ones running in plain journals and larger ones with roller bearings. The plain journals are greased by slapping a handful of grease onto the axle. Roller bearing hubs are fitted with either automotive grease nipples or industrial spade connectors. Adapters and flexible hoses can be bought for grease guns to suit.

The advent of greased for life motor parts has meant Swiss made Wanner 315 grease guns appearing in second-hand tools shops. These are exceptionally fine engineering. While not as convenient to use as cartridge guns they can be filled with any grease available by spooning it into a tub with a filler plate. I also use them on the boat for the stern bearing, filled with Silkolene synthetic grease. Liberal greasing is cheap maintenance, the life of the component.

Plain journals are more tolerant of salt water than roller bearings but pressing up roller bearings frequently with fresh grease helps chase out water, keeping the bearings free and they make moving a heavy boat much easier. Replacements bearings are still available from the USA at around £100 per axle set, not bad when you see the size of them.

Our traverse bogey runs on overhead crane wheels which have a flange on both sides of the rail, reducing the risk of derailment and they run on bush bearings. In fact it looks like an overhead crane on the ground, except that it has rails on the top. For movements on or off the traverse bogey its rail ends are supported by wooden wedges, locking the traverse in position. Apart from the winch to pull boats up the slip all movements are by man power, a team effort.

Bogey fabrication is done by our Vice Commodore, a founder member, who is an expert welder. He uses stick welding and a 415 volt three phase welder. Oxypropane is used for cutting, propane being a cheaper fuel than acetylene. Though not hot enough for gas welding it will get the cutter going, cutting itself being exothermic. The steel is in fact burning as well as melting.

Our founder members worked in local shipyards and mines, hence having metal bashing skills and access to mines railway equipment. Service rail is necessary for the patent slip its weight and high manganese content helping it stand up to life in the sea but everything else can be improvised. Some rolled steel joist sections can serve as rails and wheels can be made up or overhead crane wheels used. Besides mines, the genuine article can be found in ammunition dumps, on military ranges, old piers, factories and scrap yards, anywhere narrow gauge railways were used.

Other advantages of the railway system and uses for bogeys

For Westerly yachts the bogey serves as a jig to hold keels in position when lifting the hull off the keel to re-bed it (2). The bogey also stores the boat up off the ground, handy for working height when underneath maintaining keels (3) or removing the rudder (4).

Independence from crane hire means the freedom to move boats whenever weather and height of tide permit and in case of fire, boats can be moved quickly. We try to keep one large multi-use bogey free for emergencies. This has proved its worth on a number of occasions, bringing ashore boats in a sinking condition.

Trolleys from lorry components

With the availability of a suitable slipway, making up a trolley using two lorry front axles and a lorry chassis or rolled steel joist is another solution to beaching a boat. Trolleys like this are often seen in boat yards and marinas for yard moves but they can also be used to get a boat out of the water as at our neighbour, the Carriden Boat Yard Limited. Fitted with goal posts like the railway bogeys, a boat can be floated on, tied to the uprights and pulled out of the water with an agricultural tractor, road haulage tractor unit, static winch or anything else powerful enough.

Front axles are used as their central section drops down to clear the engine sump, enabling a low slung trolley to be constructed. By minimising vertical height one maximises the tidal window for use. The most useful design employs lorry steering boxes front and back to reduce the turning circle for maximum manoeuvrability within the confines of the yard. Otherwise the length of the trolley and towing vehicle means a lot of room is required.

If only one steering box is available the rear wheels are locked in the straight ahead position by welding the hubs at the king pins. Alternatively steering can be arranged by linking the hubs to an articulated draw bar. There is no reason why an articulated draw bar could not be used at the front and a steering box at the rear though I have not seen it done.

Drilling and tapping the hub end cap to take a grease nipple enables fresh grease to be pumped in and chase water out, rather than removing the hub. In this way salt water can largely be kept out, preserving the wheel bearings.

An early attempt of mine for my Centaur used a tipper lorry chassis. This was very strong and is still in use by another owner but the steel being double thickness invited interstitial corrosion. Rolled steel joist is preferable but more expensive.

Commercial vehicle breakers will supply front axles, a chassis, wheels and deliver. The breaker should also be able to provide wheel nut keys – each lorry has one. Wheel studs vary in size so check the fit. The two axles may have different size wheel nuts. The threads of the studs need to be kept well greased to protect them from salt water.

The only guarantee I could get for the tyres was that they would be black and round! I need not have worried. They only have to crawl round a yard. The stresses when on a loaded lorry are far greater.

Tidying up the chassis, removing air tanks etc. is a dirty job but the black grease helps protect the steel when it goes into the sea. Sticking the bits together by drilling and bolting or welding is perhaps the most difficult bit for the amateur. With good quality high speed steel drill bits and taking it slowly to keep the bit cool it is amazing what a hand held electric drill will get through. Light oil will help keep the bit cool and preserve the temper of the steel. Care is required though. I have an old 3/4” Wolf Morse taper drill bought through small ads. Its torque is so great that if the bit sticks the user will go round with the drill. To use straight shank drill bits the Morse chuck will take a screw chuck.

Straddle carriers

I have only used a straddle carrier for shore side moves, at Troon Cruising Club, but if a suitable slip is available they can do away with crane hire. The ability of the railway to move a boat sideways or ahead, not needing a turning circle has straddle carriers beaten on space utilisation and only minimal labour is necessary. So few people are required that for safety’s sake we have a club rule of a minimum of four to move a boat.

Traction for a straddle carrier tractor needs considering and lifting a heavy boat with its chain hoists is hard work. Individual bogeys or trolleys for each boat are not needed and a slip with no rails is more generally useful. However depositing a fin keel boat and shoring it up in the absence of a bogey, cradle or trolley is increasingly seen as a risky business. We have all seen pictures of the domino effect. I have also seen a boat damaged by swinging in the slings of a straddle carrier. In the final analysis those who can afford it, such as the trawler yards at Fraserburgh, Peterhead and MacDuff use railways. They really come into their own with bigger boats.

My own club has a dinghy slip alongside the patent slip. With inventiveness born of necessity this was constructed by laying a row of concrete panels from demolished system built housing on the foreshore. Although the materials cost nothing I have to admit we had to hire a crane to lay the panels. To stop them sliding further down the shore, two lengths of service rail were driven vertically into the ground with a JCB bucket.

Tools and on-site metal fabrication

People in second-hand tools shops are a great source of advice. I gravitate to these places as a compass needle tends to north. One of the best is Penny Farthing Tools, Salisbury, Wilts. See their website: This is the sort of place where you can buy anything from a screwdriver to a pillar drill. Most big towns have a shop like it. They help limited resources turn dreams into reality.

My first attempt at welding was with an SIP 140amp air cooled set. This was advertised as being able to burn a 4mm rod. It would but only two inches before overheating and cutting out, having thermal overload protection. However it burns a 3.2mm rod beautifully and weld metal can be built up by successive passes when doing heavier work. This welder arrived with rods and try as I might I couldn’t weld with them. Not knowing what was wrong; in desperation I bought a packet of top quality mild steel rods, Oerlikon Fincord M. With them it worked a treat. Cleaning the work back to bright steel is also important to achieving good weld penetration and flow of metal, another job for the angle grinder. For weld quality and electrical safety all must be dry.

Tools are often found in association. The angle grinder is the welder’s companion. Eye protection is vital when using welder and grinder. DIY welding sets come with helmets but they often do not wrap around the head sufficiently to protect from weld spatter which will pit the surface of spectacle lenses and one wonders what to eyes. Clear plastic goggles protect when using a grinder, sparks and abrasive flies in all directions and will chip spectacle lenses. If the welding mask does not wrap around enough keep the goggles on as well.

If not inclined to metalwork there is no need to struggle on your own. A mobile blacksmith will do the assembling, though it would be best to discuss it with him before buying materials. You have probably seen these on the road with a light truck, gas cylinders vertical behind the cab and on the back a generator and welding transformer. A bit of skilled input can really simplify the job.

Health and safety legislation has been a boon for the amateur steel fabricator. Chain hoists, Felco pull lifts (a kind of short lift flat chain hoist), Tirfor grip hoists (a lever action gadget for pulling on a steel wire rope), jacks etc. find their way onto the second-hand market as insurance surveyors condemn them. If used with care and well within their safe working load one can do a job safely. Common sense safe working practice, not going under a suspended load and not working on an object on a jack without supporting it on blocks, is the real essence of safety.

Further managing without a crane – a lifting gantry and derrick

The UFBC yard has a gantry of rolled steel joist set in concrete and stayed by chain tensioned by bottle screws. It provides a beam across a bogey berth to support a chain hoist for lifting engines, components of bogeys and moorings under construction. A mooring made up under the gantry can be lifted onto a bogey and taken down the slip for a tidal lift and floating into position using a raft.

The gantry also serves to support a derrick used for stepping masts. Using the derrick, lifting is by means of a small hand winch and steel wire rope. One soon learns to have enough wire out to raise the mast and enough wire on the drum to lower. “A” frame and spinnaker pole arrangements for raising and lowering masts work but their use is complicated by roller furling headsail foils and the need to avoid bending them. With the derrick masts can be lifted or raised and lowered hinged in a tabernacle.

Lowering the mast for the winter saves the rigging and enables the mast to be used as a ridge pole to sheet the boat. Bradshaw’s covers let light through for working below and keep the wind off when working in the cockpit. Security is improved by covering as the deck is out of sight. However stanchions need to be removed and all projections generously padded or they will chafe holes in the cover. The mast is supported by a crutch at the stern, packing at the mid point (a milk crate and wood serves) and a wooden support across the pulpit. This approach has served me well for fifteen years. In time the cover needs replacing but the old one will still do a turn on top of the new one, protecting it from U/V degradation. Big ships work like this, an old cover over the hatch boards to cover roughness, followed by a good one for waterproofing then an old one to protect from the sun.

Facilitating yachting on a small income – class associations and clubs  

The durability of Westerly yachts makes them very suitable for adventurous economical sailing, especially the bilge keelers. We have a growing number in our club. The Association has an increasingly important part to play, particularly supplying technical advice, a role that will continue to grow as the fleet ages.

 The development constraint for my club is space for winter storage. Small self help clubs like the UFBC and yards like Carriden are the real facilitators of affordable sailing. To widen access to keel boat sailing our national strategists need to look at the essential requirements of potential new owners just as Maurice Griffiths did.


1. Yachting on a Small Income, Maurice Griffiths, London, Hutchinson and Company, 1925, numerous reprints and at least one later edition.

2. Rebedding Keels, WOA N/L Winter 2003, No 71.

3. Repairs and Maintenance to Cast Iron Keels, WOA N/L Winter 2000 No 65.

4. Five Seasons on a Drying Mooring, WOA N/L Spring 2000, No 64.

Paul Shave

14 February 2008